With the second season now streaming on Netflix, Richard revisits the first batch of nostalgic horror from the Duffer Brothers.
It would seem for the modern audience that nostalgia is the order of the day. There is no easier pitch to make to a studio than a property that already has name recognition and an established fanbase. This has led to some extremely unfortunate desecrations and a whole lot of mediocrity being attached to previously-unblemished properties. For every good remake like It and True Grit, we have a dozen like RoboCop, Carrie or The Thing. Films that coast by on work ranging from poor to downright awful by taking the name of a beloved classic. But sometimes, more than a good name can be brought back for an audience. Sometimes, we need something new that feels like something old. That something was Stranger Things.
With its newest season just released, I’d like to take a step back and remember just what made this eight-episode story in the town of Hawkins, Indiana such a landmark moment for producer Netflix and for audiences in general. It’s important to note here that, while this review is meant mainly for those who aren’t already in love with the show, the story of Stranger Things is best experienced first-hand, so I would simply suggest that any of the uninitiated watch the show for themselves. I do intend to keep spoilers to a minimum and there are many mysteries still left to explore in season 2, which thankfully is still being helmed by the show’s original visionary creators, the Duffer Brothers.
Our story centres on a group of four boys called Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas (played by Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gatten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin, respectively). This group is so familiar to us who love our 80s classics – they are our Loser’s Club, our Goonies. When Will goes missing on his way home from a game of Dungeons & Dragons, it sets the boys on a search which will eventually lead them to a mysterious girl called “Eleven” (Millie Bobby Brown), a government conspiracy, and to the “Upside Down.” I realise, of course, that I’m being ridiculously sparse on details and leaving out the vast cast of characters who each play a part in the story, from Will’s mother Joyce (in a showstopping performance by Winona Ryder), Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and many more. The cast as a whole is massive and shockingly good, so much so that I’m struggling to pick out a false note amongst them. It’s our two “main” leads, however, Mike and Eleven, who really steal the show. 2016-2017 has been a great couple years for young actors and actresses, and whatever the future of cinema may hold, I suspect it won’t be short on talent.
Also making a helluva showing is the work behind-the-scenes, which brings me back to my point about nostalgia. While Stranger Things may be shot in 2016, that 80’s DNA bleeds into every shot, several of them seemingly taken wholesale from classics like E.T. and Stand by Me. That is not to say that the cinematography is “ripped off”, but rather the people behind the camera love those movies through and through, and they know exactly how to recapture the atmosphere and drama those films gave off. Sometimes, it isn’t the name on the film that matters so much as how it is made. Ditto again for the audio production, which sounds like a beautiful hybrid of the new and the familiar. The score itself is a luscious homage to coming-of-age dramas and old school sci-fi, but clearly interpreted through modern styles and technology.
This form of filmmaking is admittedly divisive as it is working so hard to recapture a bygone era that many feel should be left alone, but as one of the many fans of those films who was born after they had come and gone, I can think of few things more wonderful. While Daredevil may have been the show that first demonstrated how a program (other than a miniseries) could operate as a single coherent narrative by stripping out the episodic nature usually found in television, and instead following a single set narrative through several “chapters”, Stranger Things for me is the show that really proves what the “on demand” Netflix format really has to offer. This is neither an “8-hour movie” or a normal episodic show. Rather, this is cinematic styles and budgets being funnelled through a grander long-form arc of storytelling of the likes I haven’t seen since Band of Brothers. The story of Stranger Things is not, however, composed to be large and epic like a world war drama or fantasy saga – it is a smaller story being told with much greater depth and detail.
The equation to figure out if Stranger Things is a show for you is actually very simple. If you like any of the films I’ve referenced as comparative examples, then chances are that you will find something to like in Stranger Things. If those films put you off because you don’t like “youth” movies or sci-fi or the 80s, then it probably isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s fair enough. But if you’re not sure either way, and some of the little nuggets I’ve dropped have piqued your interest, then I’d say it might be worth your while to try some Stranger Things.
- The Duffer Brothers confirmed in an interview with Vulture on Aug, 22nd, 2017 that the show has been renewed for a third season ahead of the premiere for the highly-anticipated debut of season two on October 27th. The directors also explained their plans to renew the show for a fourth season as well, saying “We’re thinking it will be a four-season thing and then out.”
- Jim Hopper is named after a character killed off-screen in Predator (1987).
- The state trooper guarding the morgue is reading Cujo by Stephen King. This is one of the show’s many hat tips to the author’s work.
- Even though the original score is electronic and very Tangerine Dream-influenced, actual Tangerine Dream track excerpts can be heard over some scenes. At least one track from their album Green Desert was used in the pool scene at the party in series one.
- Gaten Matarazzo’s voice had changed so much by the time production ended that the sound team could not use him for additional dialogue recording.